I'm writing to you with hopes of salvaging a friendship that seems all but lost.
I remained close with my friend Tommy after graduating college in 2008. About a year ago, he reconnected with an old high school friend named Laura, whom he had messaged out of the blue on Facebook after seeing that she had become single. He asked if she wanted to hang out, and she suggested they go to a hockey game that she already had tickets for. For Tommy, getting dates was a rare occurrence, and he was excited for what he considered to be a date with a very pretty girl.
But for Laura, the night out was no date, just a fun hockey game with an old friend. Here's where I come in. After the game, Tommy and Laura swung by a restaurant where I was having dinner with a friend. The four of us talked only for a brief time, but I had a feeling Laura was flirting with me. I didn't think anything of it, though, and Tommy and Laura left to get drinks at an upscale bar where Tommy had made reservations and footed the bill.
The next night, I was with Tommy at a sports bar. Laura happened to be there with some friends. This time, her flirtation with me was unmistakable: She hung around me instead of Tommy, making any excuse she could to touch me. I didn't respond to her advances at first because I thought she was with Tommy, but after an hour, I decided she was fair game and asked for her number. Back at my place later that night, Tommy casually brought it up: "Hey, I think Laura might have a crush on you." I felt bad for him and changed the subject.
Two days later, I went out with Laura for ice cream and drinks. "So what's up with you and Tommy?" I asked. "Nothing," she said bluntly. "Is he saying something is up?"
A couple days passed, and out of obligation I asked Tommy if it would be OK if I were to take Laura out. He didn't give a clear answer and was visibly uncomfortable with the situation. "What do you think you should do?" he asked. I waited a moment, then responded with a shrug: "I think if she's interested in me, then I should ask her out."
Laura and I eventually became exclusive, and though Tommy never told me, it was clear that he felt betrayed. He had considered me his best friend, and one by one our mutual friends chose sides, and most landed on his side. Chief among those who chose Tommy was Ian, my closest friend from college.
A year later, Ian still sides with Tommy, and it hurts me. Losing Tommy was surprising but not devastating; although I may not have been as sensitive to his feelings as I could've been, I consider his behavior childish, and, as equally childish as some might feel this is, I won't apologize for taking advantage of an opportunity that wasn't ever available to Tommy.
Ian feels that I was in the wrong for two reasons: 1) Although Laura is adamant that she felt nothing for Tommy, there was no way to know what would have happened between them had I not stepped in. 2) When it became apparent that I would lose Tommy as friend, I had an obligation to him to do whatever it took to preserve the friendship, even if it meant leaving Laura (at this point we had been together for months).
While I understand Ian's feelings, he has trouble empathizing with mine. Further complicating things is that his girlfriend of six years insists that I am absolutely wrong and should do "whatever it takes to get Tommy back," even if this involves ending things with Laura. I considered Ian to be a top-tier friend, but he has increasingly treated me as a second-tier friend.
Laura and I are still together and we're in love, so she's not going anywhere. My question is this: Taking into consideration how much Ian values his girlfriend's opinion and how committed he is to Tommy, is it possible to return our friendship to what it was before I met Laura?
Missing My Pal
Dear Missing Pal,
If you really want your friendship with Tommy back you can have it. It won't be the way it was but it can be a friendship. You're just going to have to work for it, and it's going to cost you. What it's going to cost you is something you don't need anyway: your self-righteousness. If you can let go of the need to be right, you can regain your friendship. That doesn't mean you admit to being wrong, necessarily. It just means you admit that you have hurt your friend and that you're sorry about hurting your friend and that you are willing to take certain steps to rebuild the friendship.
Here's what I suggest you do. Go to your friend Tommy and tell him that you value him as a friend and ask him if you and he can spend some time together. That's all. If he says no, well, give it a month and try again. Keep trying.
Forget about these rules that supposedly govern who can date whom.
It's silly to put too much stock in rules for personal relationships. Deciding who was right and who was wrong won't help. Rules work well when they are codified as laws, with enforcement mechanisms, because then once an established authority decides who was right and who was wrong, somebody can go to jail or pay a fine and then it's finished. But having rules in a realm where there's no authority and no punishments is silly. The only sanction available is this refusal to be friends, which hurts both parties. Rules about who can date whom are useful as basic guidelines, but once a romantic entanglement has set in, it's silly for parties to insist on freezing each other out.
That is true unless the bare facts of the matter just make things uncomfortable. But you ought to at least give it a try. Sometimes people are afraid to see each other after an embarrassing entanglement because they don't know what to say or they'll feel uncomfortable. But if you just do it anyway, the discomfort will ease up.
Friendship and romance are the realm of anarchy. That's what friendship is: It's anarchy. If Tommy wants you to apologize, go ahead and apologize. What's that going to hurt? Do you want to be right or do you want to be happy?